Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The robin twitters his autumn song

The Safari was home late from work today and as we opened the car door we heard the distinctive twitterings of a Robin from the back garden. It was the autumn song in a 'minor key' we heard rather than the 'major key' of the spring song. The night's are drawing in and migrants are in the air.
Yesterday morning we got an early call from AB saying the weekend's Purple Sandpiper that had been found on Patch 2 was still there. We were on our way out anyway and soon found AB looking at the bird below us on the beach. As we made our way to the steps to join him a Peregrine flew over our head, only our second on Patch 2 this year. Down on the beach we had a quick look at the Purple Sandpiper (169, P2 #71) which walked along the bottom of the wall with about a dozen Turnstones and then promptly went to sleep. Sadly we were short of time and the office was beckoning so we couldn't stay out much longer and had to 'tick n run'.
Just as well as the rain started and by eck did it come down, flood warnings were issued on some of the local rivers. Fortunately it eased by our late lunchtime and we were able out get out again but by now the tide was high and the sea fairly rough so the Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers had gone elsewhere to roost.
Passing us going south in dribs and drabs were about 30 Sandwich Terns. In the distance the gulls were mooching around off shore. We spotted a couple of more distant birds swirling around which turned out to be a couple of Arctic Skuas. After a few circuits of the gulls and not finding anything to steal from them they drifted out to sea away from us.
Today we had another look for the Purple Sandpiper but wasn't able to find it. It may have gone or been elsewhere along the wall but we had a group coming so didn't have time to go searching further afield. Some Turnstones were on the rocks as usual.
But far more unusual were three Common Sandpipers that were mooching around at the edge of one of the runnels close to the bottom of the wall. They wouldn't keep still nor would they allow close approach.
Our group arrived and we were soon on our way back on the beach with pots and nets. As we walked down the slipway what we presume was a fourth Common Sandpiper flew past us. We're pretty sure it was a different one as the others had moved way down the beach together when we left earlier and we think any further disturbance would probably have pushed them even further south on their journey to the tropics.
The children soon had some super finds to show us including two tiny Common Starfish neither more than half an inch across. Soon plenty of juvenile Blennies were in the pots as were good numbers of Common Prawns but all small juveniles, we didn't find any big adults today. There were also some small Green Shore Crabs but it wasn't until almost the end of the session that we found a large one to show the children. 
Right at the end of the session we overhead a dog walker pulling her mutt away from something on the beach, at first we thought she said "jellyfish" but she had actually said "dogfish". As the group were getting ready to leave we went to investigate - it was indeed a dead dogfish,  - or at least a Lesser Spotted Catshark, a victim of manhandling by an angler. That was great as earlier we'd found a Mermaid's Purse from one. The little ones all had a stoke of its smooth skin and then felt the difference when they tried to stoke it the wrong way...Great fun was had by all. A proper dose of both Vitamin N and Vitamin Sea. 
With sandy and wet hands we couldn't get the camera out so sadly haven't got any pics of their finds to show you.
Where to next? We've got a late start tomorrow so a visit to the nature reserve is on the cards. 
In the meantime let us know who snuck out of your outback without so much as a by your leave.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A late start but a good finish

The Safari wanted to be out earlier today but had to wait until almost lunchtime. We weren't sure where to go, the nature reserve would be pretty rubbish after yesterday's gale force westerlies and heavy rain so we headed to the local estuary and the chance of a year bird. Things were looking good when we met SD in the car park, he was coming back from his walk and told us that he'd seen a Curlew Sandpiper and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls 'at the far end'. That meant a wander past the boat yard and decks.
One of the hulks has been there a few years now
Here's what the Good Hope looked like in 2009.
Across the river a lone tree stood sentinel on the top of the knoll.
We walked on towards the corner where we could see tiny dots scurrying across the the mud. Getting nearer we found a gap between the boats and scanned the flock. It took a while but eventually we found a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper (168) among the three or four hundred Dunlins and 100 or more Ringed Plovers. We couldn't find the Mediterranean Gulls but as the tide was rising quickly we'd spent most of the time looking at the waders while the gulls had shifted off to roost on higher ground much further up the river so we'd probably missed them passing by.
With the tide just about to cover the mud we turned back passing some tall Sow Thistles on the way. One one of the flowers was a very bedraggled bee. Is it just a Common Carder Bee looking worse for wear?
A Marmalade Hoverfly joined it for a while.
A Painted Lady scooted low across the saltmarsh, our first of the year. A good hour or so out. With the day still young(ish) where to next?
We decided to take a gamble on the nature reserve. Would it be a good move? The walk in was very quiet, there was nothing flying at all and nothing flitting through the bushes. Getting in to the nature reserve our fears were confirmed - it was mayhem with people ransacking the bushes for fruit, there'll be none left for the migrant thrushes in a few weeks time at this rate - dogs were running and barking all over the place and the hides were full of scrotes up to no good with drink and strange smelling ciggies. A quick look from the bench across the mere didn't give us much so we wandered on down towards the bridge passing the scrape which was empty except for a juvenile Moorhen.
Approaching the bridge we saw that tracks had been cut through the long grass around the new ponds, of we went for a look. Well worth the detour, there was less wind down below the embankment and it was considerably warmer. On the top of the embankment another Painted Lady had sped past us but we didn't see where it went. Down in the calmer conditions there were several butterflies, mostly bright Small Tortoiseshells but there were two Painted Ladies as well.
Two pics of the same individual
However, the dragonflies were what we were more interested in. There were Common Darters everywhere, the new pond must be perfect for them. There were a few Brown Hawkers down there too.
No it's not chewing a brick!
None of them would keep still long enough for a flight shot, it was still a bit gusty down there even though the wind was much less strong than up on the top. Above us a flock of about 250 Lapwings came in from the fields and settled briefly on the old scrape before lifting off and returning to the recently cropped field. A really good sized flock for here, just need it to stay all autumn and bring down some Golden Plovers now.
We retraced our steps past the mayhem of numpties feeling good from the ponds experience but depressed from the hammer the reserve was getting - what happened to the old adage "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints"? As for dog walkers actually reading a sign - - can they actually read???
Passing the scrape again we saw a pair of Moorhens and a Teal, they weren't  there earlier. And then we saw another teal swim in to view. Something about it didn't look right but the light was shocking. We fired off a few shaky shots and back at Base Camp were able to lighten them up a bit. Doesn't half look like a Garganey (169; MMLNR #96) now and several of our Twitter chums thankfully confirmed it.
Oh that it was a bit nearer and less windy...and the light was with us - excuses excuses!
From there there wasn't much at all so it was back to the car where we swapped cameras and headed off in the opposite direction with a plan in mind.
The sunny glades along the path held lots of Speckled Wood butterflies.
Again it wasn't butterflies we wanted to find. There were more Common Darters too but it wasn't dragonflies we wanted either. We arrived at the appointed place and lo and behold there were two of our hoped for/wanted little beauties. Both females.
Lovely painted toenails!
Two Great Crested Newts - result
So not a bad day in the end, just a few too many infuriating humans to make it a perfect day.
Where to next? Back to a wet Patch 2, what will we find...we've got a list of impossibles!
In the meantime let us know who dropped in unexpectedly in your outback.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

They're taking the p*ss and sticking two fingers up at us

The Safari was, like many others, shocked and very disappointed to learn that yet another satellite tagged Hen Harrier had suddenly 'disappeared' off the radar. how can this be when a long dead Osprey was recovered via it's transmitter in the middle of the Sahara desert? When you look at the land management where the last transmission came from it doesn't require a lot of nouce to wonder what might have befallen it. The tag can only realistically been shot in flight, destroyed on the ground, burned or buried to make it disappear - now who do you imagine would do such a despicable thing?
Despite, or perhaps because of, all the negative publicity they've decided to continue as before safe in the knowledge evidence of the crimes is extremely hard to get and even if there is a prosecution they are mostly 'untouchable' by means of their connections and 'friends in high places'. basically they are telling us the/our law doesn't apply to them, they believe they are well and truly above it! And don't forget the 'owner' of any of these estates are companies registered in off-shore tax havens so the economic benefit they often claim (along with our tax subsidies to the tune of £56/ha from CAP) goes out of the country and into their pockets rather than the local communities.
If you haven't yet signed the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting petition please do now and if you can write, with pen and paper snail mail preferably to your MP asking them to attend the debate and point out some of the issues to them so they are aware why you are asking them to attend. Remember they work for you. Let's start the ball rolling to a more sustainable future for our uplands, ecologically, socially and economically.
Anyway enough of the politics what have we seen?
At work we had a bit of a shock when a grandma and her grandson pointed out a young Lesser Black Backed Gull swimming in our pond. In fact she didn't realise it was a young gull as she asked what happens to the baby gulls as she 'didn't see any'. By the time we'd had a chat about gulls in general and then got our camera out the gull had hopped out of the pond and was resting on the wooden surround.
So what's so unusual about that? Actually it's the first gull we've seen in our pond in the 12 years we've worked here yet it's only about 100 yards from the beach.
The last few mornings we've had a late start at work and have been heading out from Base Camp at the normal time but doing a couple of hours at the nature reserve. Yesterday was busy with birds especially by our old cabin (reserve centre) where we saw a Lesser Whitethroat with the several Blackcaps and Whitethroats feasting on the ripe Elderberries. Also spotted after a bit of hard looking to make sure was a mostly partially hidden Garden Warbler (MMLNR #95). Done on the scrape the Redshank was still there but no sign of the Greenshank and no rarer waders like Little Stints or Wood Sandpipers either.
The walk back to the car saw us watching another Blackcap this time getting a bellyful of Blackberries.
Back at the Elderberry bush a Willow Warbler was in song.
We also saw the biggest flock of Cormorants we've ever seen in flight over the mere, 24 of them. They didn't land but flew round having a look before gaining height and leaving to the east.
There's only 21 here, the other three were well ahead to the left
It was a pretty good morning.
Today was a little different. The easterly wind had continued and bore much promise but all was very quite compared to yesterday. We struggled to see anything of note, we struggled to see anything at all everything was keeping low in the stiff breeze. 
Best we could get wit the camera was this Snipe at about 1000 feet up, probably was nowhere near that high but it wasn't much more than a dot to the naked eye.
It was just about the only thing that showed all morning. Even the now regular Redshank on the scrape had done a bunk. Disappointingly there were no Spotted Crakes or Garganeys to replace it either.
The gulls got up off the mere in a panic looking round we couldn't see anything obvious so thought it must have been the big juvenile Great Black Backed Gull that was on the water earlier flying around upsetting them. The we saw two very high Buzzards that might well have been the culprits, not an Osprey this time - as usual!
This afternoon we had a family group pond dipping at work - no gulls but shed loads of 3-spined Sticklebacks, Water Boatmen, and Greater Pond Snails but nothing more exciting.
Where to next? Might not get out much tomorrow til after work by then it might have rained and something might have been dropped.
In the meantime let is know who' your hoping is going to drop in in your outback.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

100000 and counting

The Safari has been a bit busy of late but we have been out n about.
The big news is 110,000 would like to see their Hen Harriers be 'allowed' to return to the uplands, can we make 200,000 by 6th September? That's the day the parliamentary committee sits to decide if and when there will be a debate. At the present time it's looking likely there will be a debate and it may well be held in October.
There are some things about grouse shooting we really don't like - We have a lot of Blackbirds (a wild bird) visiting our garden we wonder if we could get a licence from Natural England to catch them at night and dose them to protect them from Strongyle worms like the moorland brigade are allowed to do to Red Grouse (another wild bird)? Surely what's good for one species of wild bird must be good for another?
Beefy Botham (a former hero) claimed an unnamed moor had huge numbers of Lapwings and Curlews nesting citing a BTO survey which turned out to be poppy-cock. We'd like to ask Beefy why he/they didn't name the moor if it was that good! Then again they always come out with grouse shooting is good for waders. We'd be quite happy with a trade off of species, maybe fewer Hen Harriers and waders for more of lots of other things like trees, mosses, lichens, beetles, Stonechat, Whinchats, Stoats, Weasels, Adders and much much more.Anything has to better than a mono-culture of Heather and an over-population of Red Grouse with very little else,  apart from those waders of course which are benefiting not from any real conservation work but from the total purge on predators large and small, legally and illegally.
They also go on about the 'conservation' of Grey Partridges. We think that would be easier if they didn't introduce about 6 million Red Legged Partridges without so much as a by your leave to out compete them and then got their mates not to do this sort of stuff to the hedgerows.
Not alot of cover or food for any type of partridge in those, they'd be better for partridges if allowed to growth a bit thicker and wider like this one with a bit of rough grass at the base too.
It's not rocket science!
Rant over on to the good stuff.
On Saturday the moth trap had a couple of nice specimens in it.
Common Rustic - pale form
Large Yellow Underwing
The following day we had family duties but managed to stop off at the new reserve near ma n da's. We didn't have long there and were looking fora Little Stint that had been reported over the previous couple of days. We looked first at the small Lapwing flock in the water towards the corner and ignored the gulls on the bank which was a mistake as we were told by another birder there was a Mediterranean Gull ( a lifer for Wifey and #107 on her year list) among the Black Headed Gulls.
Best bird in the book
We didn't see the Little Stint but found two Dunlins instead. We were also told that there were a couple of Hobbies in the area...dohhh.
On the way back the warm sun had brought out a nice selection of butterflies. Wifey saw her first Holly Blue along with the more familiar Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks.
Red Admiral
The local farmers were in action too making the most if the dry weatrher as they have to at this time of year.
Strange as it may seem we've never driven a combined harvester.
At ma n da's we saw a couple of Swifts passing over the garden and another Holly Blue flitting around the shrubbery. Holly Blue is a species we'd never have expected to see in the garden all those years ago, it wasn't found round those parts.
Yesterday we didn't see much other than a shed load of Sandwich Terns moving south, three (probably four) Grey Seals and two Turnstones.  Back at Base Camp there was a hatch of flying ants which attracted a huge flock of gulls.
Later we went to the coast for an evening wander with Wifey.
Interesting new rocks - hidey holes of all manner of creatures
Old sea defence blocks
This morning we went to the nature reserve before work. We missed the shot of the day when we saw a mother Rabbit and one of her offspring silhouetted on the track not far in front of us, we failed to get the camera out before they got wind of us and hopped off into the undergrowth.
We did see a Rabbit later on in the dark under the trees.
On a nearby tree we spotted some graffiti we'd not seen before.
We didn't know Patch 2 had ever met Patch 1 but if they have a thing going on that's OK with us.
On the way out from the viewing platform we saw the Rabbit again, this time something other than us had caught its attention. We hoped a Stoat or a Weasel would appear but nothing did.
The scrub was pretty quiet, Blackcaps chacked, Whitethroats churred, Willow Warblers/Chiffchaffs hweeted and Robins ticked but we saw none of them. A pair of Greenfinches were almost posing.
A little later we heard then saw a Greenshank (MMLNR #94) flying around trying to land on the extensive Yellow Water Lily pads . There was also a Redshank on the scrape - we've never had that shank combo there before.
And if you think if there's no grouse shooting and no Heather management the uplands will just turn into an impenetrable Bramble thicket here's something to think about, a Scycamore tree poking its head out of an impenetrable Bramble thicket, it takes time but the trees will show through the scrub in the end.
And finally a little baby from Pembrokeshire from our Extreme Photographer.
Where to next? A bug hunt with some families tomorrow afternoon.
In the meantime let us know who needs culling in your outback.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

It's all getting a bit Mediterranean out there

The Safari was invited to go to Blackburn this morning to do a short interview about this blog and wildlife in general (very general as it turned out - we didn't get enough air-time to go in to much detail) on the local radio station. Once we'd finished the interview and made arrangements for a live outside broadcast wildlife show later in the autumn we headed back to the coast. Not our coast but the Southside's coast. Almost there we got side tracked by the reserve 'we do not mention by name'. It was pretty good although the sunny weather inland had deteriorated to dull and cold - we'd considered not wearing our jacket but were really glad we'd ignored ourself.
It's the middle of August and the middle of the day, you really shouldn't need flash to photograph Giant Puffballs even if they are growing under the trees.
At the furthest hide there wasn't a great lot of birds to be seen and those that were about were very distant. We had hoped to find our first Little Ringed Plover of the year but none were showing.
We did pick up a fly-past Green Sandpiper and a little later a female type Marsh Harrier. A couple of Snipe flew round briefly but we were surprised to learn from the regular birders that they don't breed here despite the vast acreage of wet grassland of varying lengths and tussockiness being available. Never seen so many Stock Doves here before either, there must have been nearly 50 in the flock feeding on the seeds dropped from the recently cut grass.
Walking back we stopped at all the hides we'd passed on the way out. The first one gave us a different couple of Snipe.
And the same or another Green Sandpiper, apparently there had been two here a little earlier but we could only find this one after a fair bit of searching.
Again everything was just a little bit too distant for proper pics; apart from this female Blackcap, which was nearer but a lot smaller so still a bit tricky for a proper pic.
At the next hide we were infuriated by an adult Little Grebe that just wouldn't show itself properly choosing to remain mostly hidden behind the bankside vegetation or underwater. But there was a bit of  compensation when a third Green Sandpiper flew through. Normally we only get one or two of these a year and sometimes just a 'heard only' night-time fly-over so three in a day and so far four in the year is pretty good going.
The feeding station was very busy with the usual garden birds.
At the last two hides we couldn't find our Little Ringed Plover, are we going to end up with an embarrassing gap on our Year List Challenge with Monika? According to the Reserve's sightings log there were two out there...grrr!
We did see the Marsh Harrier again and watched a good fly past by a large flock of Grey Lag Geese that took flight as the harrier drifted near them.
The poor weather meant we didn't see any inverts of note apart from thbis rather splendid White Tailed Bumble Bee outside one of the hides.
Phone cam
With all hides visited and all possibilities exhausted we left for the coast.
This short stretch of the coast is getting very like the Mediterranean, only a couple of weeks ago we were watching the Glossy Ibis and this time we had to dodge a multitude of Little Egrets to spot the Cattle Egret (167)...wasn't that difficult, just look for the cows and there it was...but distant...we'd spent too long at the previous reserve and missed it right in front of the hide by about half an hour. It did the typical Cattle Egret thing walking among and alongside the cattle as the wandered across the reserve. Even though it's white like a Little Egret it's a different shade of white if that makes sense.
Deffo a Cattle Egret - note the lack of yellow feet
Dreadful pics of only the second British one we've seen
Once the cattle had settled down the egret disappeared into the long grass and out of sight. That was our cue to have a look at what else was on offer on the reserve. A good flock of about 350 Black Tailed Godwits almost out of sight in the far pool might well have held the Curlew Sandpiper that flew past the hide heading that way not long before we arrived. They were spooked by something and got up but we never picked up on the much smaller bird, however we did hear but didn't see a Greenshank calling.
Today wasn't the day to be a 3-Spined Stickleback - we'd guess that here  no day is a particularly good day to be one! Two juvenile Little Grebes have become very proficient at catching themselves lunch rather than have it provided by ma n da. We watched this one catch half a dozen in almost as many minutes and with a success rate of not quite one every dive.
Many more losses were inflicted by three Little Egrets. Their sideways looking stalk is very effective even if it does look a little ungainly at times. At one point the three egrets came together and invaded each other's space whereupon a bit of a hoo-har broke out between them with the most dominant chasing the other two away and ending up with the pool to itself.
The pool to the right was quiet the only excitement being the family of Avocets asleep on the island in the furthest corner. A noisy family of Black Headed Gulls landed briefly, well the adults were quiet but their youngster was begging very noisily until it was fed with something regurgitated after which they flew off again leaving the Avocets to their slumbers. With the Avocets, Little Egrets, Cattle Egret and recent Glossy Ibis only the local Great White Egret(s?) were missing to make this little patch of Lancashire more like the Carmargue than Lancashire of 20 odd years ago...now if there'd been some white horses and black cattle...
All the best action was looking the other way where about 50 - 60 Swallows were resting on the reserve's boundary fence. All manner of preening and stretching was going on as they conserved energy and worked their feathers into tip top condition ready for their massive journey to South Africa. Above the hide windows is a small colony of House Martins and although they spent some time on the fence they were just as likely to be seen still collecting balls of mud on the nearby little island.
Also visiting the island were the odd camera-shy Meadow Pipit and far less shy Goldfinches, which judging by the proportion of juveniles have had a productive breeding season round these parts.
Every now and then the Swallows would flush and take to the air but would soon settle down to start their preening and stretching routine again.
One sharp eyed observer spotted a Sand Martin flying around with the throng of Swallows and House Martins and fortunately it joined the Swallows on the fence not too far away.
On Tuesday we had a surprise when we arrived at work. We opened the car door and got our bag from the back and heard a Common Sandpiper (P2 #69) calling very loudly. We looked round but didn't see it, ah well we thought, that's a good fly over record they're not annual on Patch 2. Leaving the car and walking to the front door we heard it again even louder this time, turning to where the sound had come from we saw it flying up over the front hedge, it had been on the lawn! Later we learned that there'd been two earlier in the morning at the nature reserve so it looks like there was a bit of over night movement.
News also reached us of a seal that had been seen on the beach on Saturday. Photos were brought into work showing it to be a juvenile Harbour Seal, a very infrequent visitor to our coast and probably ill or starving and dehydrated (they get their fresh water from their food). By strange coincidence minutes after we were given the photos from the weekend it appeared on a colleague's Facebook feed from that morning not far from work. We sent news of it to the local British Divers Marine Life Rescue rep TH but the tide was coming in and she'd have to wait until late afternoon to go out to look for it.
phone pic of a photo on glossy paper
We didn't hear back from her so can only assume she didn't find it.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow if wind and rain permit.
In the meantime let us know how Mediterranean it is in your outback.